Sunday, December 07, 2008

Book Recommendation: Faith that Endures

Faith that Endures - Ronald Boyd-MacmillanThis is my most inspiring read of the year. And I had not even heard of it just over a week ago! I was on a weekend away last week, and upon perusing the little book table, this one leapt out at me as it was the only title I didn't recognise. I picked it up, read a couple of pages, then read a few more pages, and before I knew it I had forked out my chequebook! But it was worth it. I finished it in 3 sittings - utterly compelling and challenging.

Ronald Boyd-Macmillan is a long-time journalist and researcher with Open Doors International, having also worked for a couple of other news organisations and seeing the persecuted church up-close. Faith that Endures bills itself as "The Essential Guide to the Persecuted Church", and Boyd-Macmillan seeks to answer 5 questions:
  • What does contemporary persecution look like?
  • What is a persecuted Christian?
  • Where is the persecuted church?
  • How can we best assist the persecuted church?
  • What does the persecuted church have to teach us?

    So it sets itself pretty lofty standards! But Boyd-Macmillan rises to the challenge admirably. It is a remarkable blend of even-handed reportage, incisive analysis, and passionate exhortation. He takes us on a tour of places like Kurdistan, India and China to give us a flavour of persecution today. He then deftly navigates his way through the current literature on the subject, as he thinks through both legal and biblical definitions of what "persecution" means. This is one thing I especially appreciated about his work. His style was readable and clear, but I had no doubt that the author had done his homework; I could feel the weight of learning.

    The persecuted church is bigger than we think, and Boyd-Macmillan takes us through the different regions of the world. How, then, can we help the persecuted? This section is a good example of the nuanced approach with which Boyd-Macmillan approaches the issues. He shows how often well-intentioned Christians can do more harm than good, as well as the politicised nature of the NGO world. He helps us see two sides to each tactic ("Bible-bombing", for eg.).

    Also, he helped me see the importance of keeping informed. I discovered, to cite one instance, that my assumption that state churches in China were banned from preaching the 2nd coming of Jesus was at least a decade out of date. There was also a very moving account of how, upon meeting some of the Chinese church leaders, they broke down in tears when the author gave thanks to God for the revival in that nation. Astonished, he asked them why. Their reply was instructive: "we often ask God, why he has given us more converts than we are able to disciple!" I thought that was a very insightful and mature perspective on the biggest revival in modern history, given that in Matthew 28, Jesus asks us to go and make disciples, not converts. Finally, there is a section on learning from the persecuted church, and he rounds up by providing an informative annotated bibliography.

    Another thing I really appreciated about his work is how often he tries to set things in wider context. So he is keen to emphasise that for every dazzling story of martrydom we hear, there are so many more ordinary stories of endurance that we might not know about this side of heaven. For some of the persecuted, deliverance from their suffering might never come in this life. Indeed, to focus only on the more sensational stories is to distort the true picture. Nor is it always true, he contends, that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church". There are times where it has had adversely negative effects. But it wakes us up to the reality of what it means to take up our cross to follow Jesus and reminds us that in all things, we can trust that God will be with his church.

    Sure, I wish there was more explicit engagement with biblical texts at times, but that's a minor point. This has got to be currently the best one-volume work on the persecuted church. But sadly, it's not well-known at all. I hope blogging about it would go a tiny way to rectifying that situation.

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